Napanee Plain Alvar Nature Reserve, ON (Photo by Vincent Luk/Evermaven)

Napanee Plain Alvar Nature Reserve, ON (Photo by Vincent Luk/Evermaven)

Help for an endangered songbird rarer than the panda

July 25, 2018


Nature Conservancy of Canada protects globally significant habitat for the endangered eastern loggerhead shrike

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has announced the expansion of an important conservation area in eastern Ontario. The non-profit conservation group has purchased 31 hectares (78 acres) of key eastern loggerhead shrike habitat north of Napanee.

At risk of disappearing in our lifetime, the endangered eastern loggerhead shrike relies on grassland habitat, which has all but disappeared from Ontario. This new addition is a known nesting site for the unique predatory song bird, and expands NCC’s Napanee Plain Alvar Nature Reserve to 121 hectares (300 acres).

In 2017, biologists observed five young shrikes fledging from their nest on the property — part of the longest-occupied eastern loggerhead shrike nesting area in the Napanee Plain. The site also has globally rare alvar habitat and lies within the Napanee Limestone Plain Important Bird Area. 

One of the fastest-declining bird species in North America, the migratory shrike is a classic example of an “area-sensitive species.” It requires large areas of open terrain before it is comfortable enough to nest. Few regular, protected nesting areas remain for the eastern loggerhead shrike. It is believed that there are less than 30 breeding pairs remaining in the wild in North America.

One of North America’s great limestone plain landscapes, the Napanee Plain is a rich complex of wetlands, forests, lakes, grasslands and alvars. Alvars are found in just a handful of places in the world. It is also one of the areas where NCC partners with Wildlife Preservation Canada to assist with shrike recovery efforts.

The Napanee Plain is home to several other federally listed species at risk, including eastern meadowlark (threatened), least bittern (threatened) and juniper sedge (endangered).

This Nature Conservancy of Canada project was generously supported by funding from the Government of Canada, through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. The property will be named the Irene Ockenden Alvar Tract, thanks to a generous financial donation from Dr. Kenneth Ockenden in her memory. Other private donors, including the Kingston Field Naturalists, helped provide crucial matching funds for the project. To date, NCC has protected more than 747 hectares (1,846 acres) in the Napanee Plain area.


“The Napanee Plain and its globally rare alvars are incredibly important to Ontario. It’s critical that we conserve these special natural places, not just for grassland bird species like the shrike, but for the benefit of current and future generations.” Wendy Cridland, Nature Conservancy of Canada Acting Vice-President, Ontario Region

“Our government is proud to protect Canada’s natural wonder and support the conservation of species at risk. And through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, in Napanee we are conserving important habitat for a unique bird species, the eastern loggerhead shrike. Canada is home to an incredible natural legacy, and that’s why in Budget 2018 we also committed a historic $1.3 billion to ensure we protect our natural spaces and biodiversity now, and for generations to come.” Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change


  • Sometimes referred to as the “butcher bird,” the eastern loggerhead shrike is one of North America’s few predatory songbirds. Using its strong, hooked beak, the shrike impales its prey, typically large insects, on thorns or the barbed wire of fences. As the shrike does not possess the strong grasping legs of a raptor, this technique allows it to capture its prey and store it for later consumption.
  • The Napanee Plain Alvar Nature Reserve provides valuable habitat to captive-reared, released eastern loggerhead shrikes and aids in the species’ recovery.
  • Alvars are naturally open habitats with a thin to non-existent covering of soil over a base of bedrock (either limestone or dolostone). Because of limited soil, fewer plants grow on alvars. This results in naturally open habitats that are perfect for grassland birds, including the eastern loggerhead shrike.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation's leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect more than 1.1 million hectares (2.8 million acres), coast to coast, with more than 74,400 hectares (184,000 acres) in Ontario. To learn more, visit

The Government of Canada's Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP) is a unique public-private partnership to accelerate the pace of land conservation across southern Canada. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) manages the program. Federal funds are matched by contributions raised by NCC and its partners. Habitat conserved under the NACP enhances natural corridors and other protected areas.

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Nicole Senyi
Communications Manager
Ontario Region
C: 416-937-5079

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